child's drawing of a rainbow with a circle inside the rainbow with word community and people in a circle holding hands. Image credit: student of Ysgol Pen Rhos.

making space for nature | community co-design

An academic and enterprise partnership centred around the aim of working with local communities to co-produce plans for making space for nature.

growing a collaborative partnership

This project is an excellent example of delivering on Urban Habitats’ Research Strategy of practice-based research and collaboration between a university, practitioners, and public bodies.  In this project those public bodies included education, planning & environment, healthcare, housing, and more.

The project brought together a range of partners with Urban Habitats as industry lead / applicant for the funder.  The partners included Ysgol Pen Rhos, a primary school in the West Wales town of Llanelli and the work was produced with the school students and staff.

Cardiff University led the project overall and the academic partner bringing together schools of psychology (Prof. Merideth Gattis) and geography (Dr Matluba Khan).  The project particularly aimed to address and link to strategic goals for health and nature and therefore having Carmarthenshire County Council and Hywel Dda University Health Board involved supported this aim.  The partnership also included the UK’s leading outdoor learning and play charity – Learning Through Landscapes.  Cynon Valley Organic Adventures, a social enterprise, supported thinking about community focused outdoor learning.

For children, nature is a space for curiosity.
Wonder why they call them butterflies?
Why is that cloud colliding with that cloud?

Phase I Project report

nature: talking about, making space for, actions for

The children and staff or Ysgol Pen Rhos in Llanelli, West Wales, collaborated in the project which was designed around three phases plus a school community showcase:

  • Phase 1: let’s talk about nature
  • Phase 2: making space for nature
  • Phase 3: actions for nature
  • Showcase: of students, staff, and wider community

The first phase saw 29 children aged 2-8 having a conversation which was recorded with their parent or caregiver about nature.  The responses were gathered by researchers from Cardiff University’s school of psychology and the responses give a picture of how families use local parks and links to health and wellbeing.

The second used co-design approach with Year 6 children to look at questions like, “what is nature”, “what is community”, and “how can we connect communities with nature”.  A series of weekly workshops over about a month were led by researchers from Cardiff University’s school of geography and planning.  Urban Habitats and Learning Through Landscapes also supported these sessions.  Students produced drawings, maps, led us on walks around their favourite nature spots, and modelled ideas for changes they would like to make.

The final phase led by Urban Habitats sought to link the findings of the previous two phases to the work of public bodies, policy makers, and wider stakeholders to existing activities, projects, and strategies.  This involved many calls and meetings across health, education, environment, transport, third sector organisations, and others.  It sought to highlight existing assets and opportunities to link with and also how these could be refined to help make space for nature.  The most direct outcome was a series of ‘evidence informed actions that can happen now’!  Also extensive data of policies, plans, projects, stakeholder contacts was compiled to build on this work in future.

our role

Urban Habitats were the lead industrial / enterprise partner for the project including for the funding agency. 

It was important that this project which resulted in a new collaboration was based on a broad understanding of shared values and interests having initially been approached by Prof. Merideth Gattis, Professor of Psychology at Cardiff University. 

Urban Habitats provided support and thinking across the whole project, actively supported and participated in phase 2 student co-design, and led the phase 3 work actions for nature.


This project was sponsored by the Accelerate programme, a health innovation programme funded by Welsh Government’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by the Life Science Hub Wales in partnership with three universities including Cardiff University.  The funding aimed to enable collaboration between enterprises, healthcare professionals, and academia to engage in innovative, evidence-based health and social care solutions.  And this is truly what was achieved on this project.

what we learned

It was of course going to always be the case that children had very different ideas than adults about nature.  This was most clear when children took us on a walk round their local park, venturing into areas and pointing out things that adult eyes simply skipped over.

We learned a lot working with different disciplines including psychology and geography and with experts such as Prof. Gattis and Dr Khan from Cardiff University.

This was Urban Habitats first academic-enterprise collaboration supported by a major governmental funder.  The practical learning about managing and administrating such a collaboration is invaluable to future delivery of our research strategy.


The opportunity for children at Ysgol Pen Rhos to work with experts in their respective academic fields provides a richness to our curriculum that is unique. At the heart of this fantastic collaboration are children’s voices and thinking about where they live, their community and what they want to see change. These authentic learning experiences are treasured by us as a school community and we look forward to change that they will bring.

Dr Joe Cudd, Executive Head Teacher, Ysgol Pen Rhos

find out more…

The full project report can be downloaded from Cardiff University here

The project is to be shared as a poster at Healthy City Design 2023 at the Royal College of Physicians, Liverpool

Do contact us if you would like to have a chat about nature!